Hundreds of Congress workers broke through barricades after they were stopped outside Guwahati during the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, setting off a bitter war of words between chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the 6,600km march.
Later in the day, Sarma said an FIR was filed against Gandhi, Congress leaders KC Venugopal, Kanhaiya Kumar, and others.
Assam police used batons to disperse Congress workers around noon as they tried to break through barricades put up to prevent the yatra from proceeding to a busy area in Guwahati, citing potential traffic disruptions.
Assam Congress chief Bhupen Kumar Borah and the leader of Opposition in the assembly Debabrata Saikia were among the people injured in the police action, a day after Gandhi was stopped from visiting one of the state’s most important shrines in Nagaon, prompting him to stage a sit-in.
The face-off sparked a political controversy.
“We have broken down the barricades, but Congress workers would not break the law… Congress workers are not afraid of anyone, including the [ruling] BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and [its ideological fount] Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh,” said Rahul Gandhi in an address from atop a bus, minutes after the confrontation.
Sarma hit back, saying he had directed the state police to lodge a case against Rahul Gandhi for provoking the crowd, using the footage shared on social media as evidence. “This is not part of Assamese culture. We are a peaceful state. Such Naxalite tactics are completely alien to our culture,” he posted on X. He added that the “unruly behavior” and “violation of agreed guidelines” resulted in a traffic jam in Guwahati.
Tensions were already flying high after Gandhi was stopped on Monday morning outside Batadrava Than, the birthplace of 15th-century social reformer-saint Srimanta Sankardeva and a sacred site for the Assamese. Gandhi then sat in protest for over an hour.
On Tuesday morning, the Assam government informed the Congress that the yatra, which began in Manipur on January 14, will not be allowed to enter the heart of Guwahati as it could cause traffic jams and advised the party to take the ring road. The Congress, however, insisted on the original route and pointed out that BJP chief JP Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah had been allowed to conduct road shows in central Guwahati earlier.
With Congress workers not stepping back, barricades were put up at Khanapara on the outskirts of Guwahati to prevent the yatra from proceeding to GS Road, the busiest road in Assam’s capital. As the yatra, including the bus carrying Gandhi, neared Khanapara, Borah, Saikia and hundreds of Congress workers tried to forcibly break through the barricades and move forward, before being halted by police personnel.
As the situation escalated, policemen resorted to baton charges, and in the ensuing melee Borah, Saikia, and a few others fell on the road. Borah sustained a minor injury on his right hand, Saikia was hurt on his legs and a few other workers also sustained bruises and other injuries.
As Congress workers fought against the police, Gandhi vowed to fight for the people’s rights and promised his party would form the next government in Assam.
Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra
The yatra will spend another two days in Assam, before moving into West Bengal on January 25. Gandhi’s yatra first entered Assam on January 18 but passed through Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya over two days before re-entering Assam on Tuesday.
The yatra, which comes a year after the Bharat Jodo Yatra, is the Congress’s last major public outreach program before this year’s general elections and will be primarily undertaken on the bus. The route will cover 100 Lok Sabha seats and 337 assembly seats across 15 states, and end on March 20 in Mumbai.
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